Susan Gibson,
Chin Up
(self-produced, 2002)

Chin Up is a selection of songs from Susan Gibson, the gifted songwriter who penned the Dixie Chicks' massive hit, "Wide Open Spaces." Her vocals are slightly rough around the edges, a little husky and occasionally strained, but ideally suited to her self-deprecating, life on the edge, reality-based lyrics.

The titular song is a hidden afterthought, recounting the fruitless struggle to achieve the presidential fitness certificate -- and she "still bears the scars of doing time behind the monkey-bars." Do adults realise the terror experienced as she "makes it a game when they call your last name, pretend it's just a firing squad"? In her opening "Anything to Keep from Crying," she goes straight into her trademark clever imagery and rhyming couplets; who can't relate to "My smile is half stiff upper lip"? This continues with the punchy "Shape I'm In," noting that "most people think that I'm drowning, off the deep end splashing around. Maybe that's just the way I swim. That's the kinda shape I'm in ... 100 times I have fallen from grace ... it has never been a graceful fall. And all the while it felt like a swan dive, turns out it was a cannonball."

There are some good strong instrumental breaks, courtesy of her accompanying musicians, notably Michael O'Connor on guitar and Eleanor Whitman on violin. Susan also accompanies herself on banjo. The lyrics to "Trophy Girl" are darker by far than its rolling tune: "Mount my head on the wall. Tie my hands and break my back. You don't think that it's wrong to show me off just to see them react. I sit high on your shelf gathering dust and losing myself. You call them over to see. I stand up straighter when they look at me." The mood lightens somewhat with the start of "Clumsy Hands," the tale of an accident-prone Texas gal who "runs into things, trips over her shoes, she's gotta funny story for every scrape and every bruise ... She met a handyman and he lived down south. She leaned in to give a kiss and accidentally hit him in the mouth. She chipped his tooth and it gave him a fat lip." Listen to it to find out how it ends!

She hasn't overloaded the album with love songs, but they are there, and traveling is also much on her mind; her songs leave town, travel down the road, drive for miles and miles and miles, head south -- "I don't live out of my car, I just drive my suitcase" (a phrase that appealed to me very much). "If I'd Thought" and "Excuses, Excuses" are both in a slower mode, pensive little stories that will have the listener nodding in agreement with the sentiments expressed therein. We all know someone about whom "Sourpuss" could have been written.

Susan sings with energy and enthusiasm, with an occasional drawl and twang, and if not all her songs lend themselves to a sing-along, they certainly lend themselves to a careful listening. These are not repetitive popular pulp; these are songs from the heart, viewpoints on life that will strike a chord with many listeners. The poignant "Do You?" aims at patching up a relationship and the plaintive "One Rollerskate" ponders how things might have differed: "and I wonder what happened ... what made it so hard?/to find a mailbox and mail your postcard/I sure am sorry, but it's just too late/cuz nothing's as worthless as one rollerskate." "Take You With Me" is a realistic song about the dreams and hardships in life: "I can't even find my ends let alone make them meet. Heading out the door again on four hours sleep."

Susan Gibson does not soften the blows with her lyrics or her music; she tells it as she sees it, as she felt it ... as it is. And even with the hurt and the cynicism, the weary wondering and companionless wandering, it is good. The result of all this pressure and angst is a veritable diamond in the rough!

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 19 April 2003

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